As the Mega Millions jackpot continues to break records, lottery fever has officially swept Ocean County.

With lines at convenience stores and some machines even running out of ticket paper, the rush of buyers pushed yesterday's $970 million estimate to officially over a billion dollars today.

But of course, there are some catches.

First, if you actually score the jackpot despite the odds of 1 in 258,890,850 you'll have to make a decision - do you want the annuity or the lump sum?

If you decide that you want all the cash right now and take the lump sum, according to, the cash payout is $565,600,000.

Hey, over half a billion still! Not bad, right?

Hold on, though, the State of NJ still wants their cut!

New Jersey has an 8% tax on lottery winnings, they'll take about $45 million of that, thank you very much.

So let's say that you don't need $384,608,000 all at once (which is what you'll end up with after taxes). The annuity option is pretty attractive if you can handle delayed gratification. pegs the annual check at $22,666,666.

You'll have to wait 30 years, but in the end you'll end up with a good deal more, a total of $679,999,980.

Oh, but hang on, don't forget Uncle Sam. You'll have to pay federal income tax on that every year, too.

So which is better?

Hard to say, really. It all depends on an individual's situation and goals. But there is one thing that we can all agree on - you'll have wished that you bought your ticket in New Hampshire, where's there's no tax on lottery winnings.

While the odds are daunting, it's still fun to dream.

The drawing is at 11:00 tonight. Good luck, everybody!


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